Friday, March 19, 2010

1 Kings 5-11: The Reign of Solomon

King David got a whole book to describe his reign; Solomon reigned just as long and gets seven chapters.  This This is because ancient biographers were not concerned with chronicling every detail of a significant person's life, but only with recording the parts of the person's life that made them significant.  I wish that modern biographers would take this approach; I hate reading biographies.

Anyway.  The most significant event of Solomon's life, as we all know, was the building of the Temple.  This was a huge undertaking, and to accomplish it, Solomon had to get outside help from the king of Tyre, a guy named Hiram.  Solomon bought cedar and cypress timber from Hiram in exchange for lots of food.  Solomon also hires some of Hiram's servants in addition to his own tens of thousands of laborers.  It took this many people, I suppose, because they had to transport the materials, and that could not have been easy.  Solomon, being a smart dude, had 30,000 people divided into 3 rotating shifts - each shift of 10,000 would work 1 month and be home for 2 months, which is a pretty nice deal I think.  I don't know what his other workers' hours were.

Anyway, the book gives general specs on the building - dimensions, materials, rooms, some of the decorations, etc.  But it's not a blueprint, so we don't know exactly what it looked like, although a lot of people have made good educated guesses.  Wikipedia has an article about it.  The point is, this was supposed to be the most beautiful building in Israel - just about everything in it was overlaid with gold, and there were cherubim statues and engravings of palm trees, flowers, and more cherubim.  It took seven years to build and all 38 verses of chapter 6 plus 39 verses of chapter 7 to describe.

In the next chapter Solomon builds himself a house, which is much smaller and much less impressive, and only takes 12 verses to describe.  Clearly, the house of God was more important to Solomon than his house was, and that is as it should be.

Then the ark is brought into the temple, and Solomon addresses the people to tell them why he built the temple, and gives a very long prayer of dedication, asking God to hear the prayers of His people and have mercy on them when they are in distress or when they have turned from Him and then repent.  He finishes with a benediction and then a really huge sacrificing party - 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep.  I don't know how long it took to sacrifice each animal, but using a little bit of basic math I figured out that they definitely needed multiple priests sacrificing at once or they'd be there for like a week.

Now God appears to Solomon again, like he did before when Solomon asked for wisdom.  God tells Solomon again that if he lives as David did and follows God all his life, his throne will be established forever and everything will be good; but if he doesn't, the land will be taken away from him and the temple will be destroyed.  That makes me wonder, if Israel had never sinned, and if all the kings had been good, would Jesus have been born in a palace?

Now that all the temple work has been completed, Solomon gives fellow king Hiram twenty cities in Galilee, just to have.  I think that is really generous, because remember he's also been giving him food for the last 7 years.  But Hiram doesn't like the cities he got (maybe he doesn't like Galilee).  This, to me, is kind of like looking a gift horse in the mouth, don't you think?  But we don't know if Solomon did anything to make him more grateful.  We just know that those 20 cities were nicknamed Cabul, meaning "as good as nothing," and that Hiram sent Solomon 120 talents of gold.

Earlier, we heard that kings came from around the world to meet with Solomon because he had a reputation of being so wise.  Now the queen of Sheba comes to visit Solomon.  Sheba is apparently where Ethiopia is today.  The queen and Solomon seem to hit it off, to the point that many people believe the queen returned to her country carrying Solomon's child.  And to this day, I believe the Ethiopians claim to be descendants of the queen of Sheba and Solomon, to some extent.  And maybe that's why they accepted Christianity so readily.  I don't know.

Now we get a description of how rich Solomon was - the armor, the chariots, the armies, the goblets, etc.  Apparently Solomon made Israel so rich that silver because a common metal.  How would you like to live in a land where there was as much silver as gravel!

Unfortunately, the other thing Solomon has a lot of is women.  300 wives and 700 concubines - seriously, that's disgusting.  How is it that the wisest ruler in the world is probably the stupidest husband?  Well, God didn't say he'd give Solomon wisdom for everything in life, just for ruling.  I don't believe that Solmon was the overall wisest person ever to live, because he made really foolish mistakes in his relationships - namely, that he had so many.  And guess what?  Since Israel apparently ran out of single women for Solomon to collect, he started turning to foreign women, including women from countries and religions that God said never to intermarry with.  And wouldn't you know it, all those women eventually turned Solomon's heart away from God.  If your heart is divided among 1000 women, I think it's only natural to suppose that it would become divided from God sooner or later as well.  Really, really stupid idea, wise guy.

So of course, trouble starts to come, and it comes from Israel's cousin, Edom.  Edom rebels against Solomon, and there was strife between the two nations for the rest of Solomon's life.  Now God tells a prophet named Ahijah that he's going to divide the kingdom between David's descendants and another guy named Jeroboam, and he'll even give Jeroboam the majority of the kingdom.  Ahijah tells Jeroboam that if he follows God, things will go well for him and he'll have a descendant on the throne of Israel forever - kind of like what God said to Solomon.  God doesn't want to destroy Israel, but he is going to use it as an illustration of what a heart divided looks like.  But out of love for David, God's decided to wait until after Solomon's death to do this.

Solomon dies, and I don't know what the state of his heart was.  God told Solomon himself that he's going to take the kingdom away from him, and we don't hear whether Solomon repents or not.  That's kind of discouraging, because God had been so important to him before - or maybe it was that he was preoccupied with David's vision, without ever making it his own.  I suppose we'll never know on this side of heaven.  Either way, it's clear that the old saying is true: God doesn't have grandchildren.  Just because David followed God wholeheartedly, doesn't mean that Solomon could do whatever he wanted.  Maybe Solomon was basing his relationship with God off his father's relationship, figuring that being the son of David was good enough to keep him in God's good graces.  And you just can't do that.

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